Written by: Larry ‘The Nucks IceMan” Johnson
I first saw Vancouver Canucks Alex Edler when he played with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL (his only season) at a game in Vancouver, in which they played the rival Giants. Right away I took note of who he was because here was a good-sized kid at 6’3 about 210 lbs., who could do it all at the junior level.
He was not overly physical but his size allowed him to check and neutralize some of the smaller players, and to a certain extent, the other players around his size. His swift, sure skating and blistering point shot, along with his first pass from the defensive zone, really caught my attention.
I got to see him a couple more times with the Rockets before he turned pro with the Manitoba Moose. I thought to myself, here’s a good prospect that the Canucks could use and if he is half as good as his countryman Mattias Ohlund, then he would be a great asset.
Edler spent one year in Manitoba (2006-07) where he had a decent year for a first-year pro D-man, totalling 5G, 21A, 28PIM in 49 games. It was also the same year he was brought up to play in 22 games with the Canucks, when he finished with 1G, 2A and 6PIM.
In 2007-08 he played a couple of games in Manitoba but eventually ended up playing 75 games in Vancouver with 8G, 12A and 42PIM. His point totals improved to 37 in 2008-09 and to 42 last season.
Like any new D-man in the NHL he had problems adapting to the bigger, quicker NHL forwards, but this was expected. What I noticed right away was that he was not very physical and used his stick to check but very seldom that good-sized frame that filled out to 222 lbs.
His reaching to poke check the puck from the attacking forwards, constantly took Edler out of position and he would be beaten wide or to the inside by the speedier forwards. Not only that, he seemed to be out-muscled for the puck.
Boy did I jump all over that and slung a lot of arrows his way for what I considered soft play from a big strong D-man. No, I didn’t expect him to be one to drop his gloves because that didn’t seem to be in his nature, but this stick check thing was so ineffective.
Edler also had problems reading the play and would get beat at the point trying to pinch or in the neutral zone, leaving his partner by himself to defend the two on one. It was not coincidence that he had his best season for goals scored (10) and +/- with a plus 11, while playing beside Mattias Ohlund.
He sure could shoot the puck though, as Alex became a fixture on either the second or first team power play at the point.
Last season he continued his stick play but started to figure out that when he applied his physical presence to the attacker he could be more effective, but that didn’t seem to happen until near the end of the 82 games.
With the play-offs emerged a more confident, physical D-man who was able to elevate his play, and in the first game against the LA Kings he looked all world. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was watching the same player.
Here he was laying on the body, not just rubbing players out along the boards, but hard physical checks that were knocking players around like pin balls. He led the Canucks in Hits that night with six and it was the best all-around game I had ever seen him play.
This led me to believe that within him was the player that Canucks management had been so patiently awaiting. Well, he did not equal that game again in the play-offs but did play steady in light of all the Canucks D-men that would be injured.
Edler himself would not be spared, as Hawks behemoth Dustin Byfuglien would end his play-offs when he crunched Alex into the boards and then fell on his leg, which broke his ankle.
This season, Edler has played a more physical game and his point totals are on par with Christian Ehrhoff’s six. These two have also become the number one pairing on defense with the injuries to Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis, and also play on the first team power play.
This looks like the coming out year for Alex Edler, who surely has all the tools to become the top D-man for the Canucks and in the NHL rankings. He is currently tied for sixteenth with six points along with a slew of other NHL D-men. Look for this player to have a career year in points if he remains healthy.
As always, you can find me at @twitter.com/nucksiceman.com , @communities.canada.com/VANCOUVERSUN/blogs/fanattic/default.aspx , and @slapshot.com
Filed under: Opinion